Subjects: Visit to Perth; Labor’s cost of living crisis; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal; Indigenous Affairs portfolio spending; Victorian bushfires.
It’s absolutely fantastic to be joined here today at Epic Espresso in West Perth with the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, back in Perth yet again, and of course my senatorial colleague in Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.
Can I thank Albert, Tammy and Hung for hosting us here this morning. They are just typical of so many small businesses across Australia. Apart from serving, what I believe, is the best coffee in West Perth, when you actually talk to them – this is a small business – in fact, it’s a family business that is struggling well and truly with the increasing costs of doing business. Whether it’s the increase in electricity, whether it’s the increase in the produce that they’re buying, but also when people are actually coming into the café, because Australians are now facing a cost of living crisis, that translates into their ability to be able to purchase from their local small business. So, someone who might normally come in for, say, coffee and a cake, is only coming in for a coffee – and that impacts, obviously, on the small business itself.
We’ve also heard from Albert today about the real struggle they have in, in particular, getting casual staff. One of the huge issues that we have with that, as the Coalition, is that with Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke’s next tranche of industrial relations legislation – that is going to make a small business’s ability to take on a casual employee even harder. Cost, confusion, and chaos: that is the last thing our small businesses in Australia need.
So, it’s great to again have Peter and Jacinta on the ground here talking to Western Australians about what matters to them most, and that is of course the increasing cost of living in this country.
We’ve also, though, I’ve been out at pre-poll this morning in Osborne Park and again great to have Peter and Jacinta on the ground being able to talk to people about why as a Coalition we have taken a stance to say ‘no’ to Mr Albanese’s Voice of Division. I was at the Royal Show last week and it was just great to be able to talk with Western Australians, but in particular they wanted to talk to us at the Liberal Party tent. They wanted us to know why they’re saying ‘no’ to Mr Albanese’s Voice of Division. They don’t want to divide this country on the basis of race, they don’t want to permanently embed a system, that already does not work, into our Constitution. So, again, great to have Peter Dutton back on the ground here in Western Australia again talking to Western Australians about the issues that really do matter to them in terms of cost of living, and also great to have Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price here, talking to people about why she and her family are saying ‘no’ to Mr Albanese’s Voice of Division. Jacinta?
JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Thank you, Michaelia.
It really is wonderful to be back here in Western Australia with Michaelia and also with our leader, Peter Dutton.
You know, being out on pre-poll this morning, there was certainly a sense of Western Australians really wanting to maintain a united Australia, and that is the sense, absolutely, that was felt at last night’s event as well for the No campaign. That’s the sense that I’m getting as I travel across Australia, but particularly this time around here in Western Australia, in Perth, there is a sense of, you know, more electricity with the crowd. Those Australians who are proud to call themselves Australians, who don’t want to see themselves divided along the lines of race.
Right here, today, with Albert, Hung and Tammy’s cafe, I mean, they are an example of the Australian story, and as I keep saying to Australians around the country, it doesn’t matter whether we were here 60,000 years ago or six months ago: you are Australian, it doesn’t matter your racial heritage.
The problem with this divisive referendum is the fact that it seeks to create different levels of citizenship. I can’t stand for that, not when I sit with this wonderful family here in this cafe, to hear about the opportunities that they have taken in Perth here with their cafe. They work hard, they’re working hard to ensure that those here have jobs, that they’re supplying the working community with coffee to keep their day-to-day going. But this is yet another incredible Australian story and there are so many incredible Australian stories for those who have migrant backgrounds, those who are connected to the First Peoples of this country –such as myself, those who have convict ancestry – we are all Australian – and that’s the point. That is why getting around and hearing people and speaking to people face to face as they go into cast their vote, they are more determined to vote ‘no’ to any level of division within our Constitution. But they are saying ‘yes’ to maintaining equality in Australia. They are saying ‘yes’ for hope toward the future. They want to see great outcomes for our marginalised Indigenous Australians, but know that this Voice is not the way to go and Australians are getting that.
Those that we’re speaking to on the ground, those in the audiences that are just feeling like their Australian spirit is being reignited because they are sick of the name calling, the gaslighting, the emotional blackmail that’s gone on as a result of this campaign. They’re ready to stand up for the benefit of all Australians, but particularly our most marginalised. They, like Albert’s family here today, know the sorts of opportunities that exist for all Australians.
So, we can’t wait to get past this referendum so we can focus on the issues that are really of concern to Australians, which is the cost of living going forward to improve the lives of everybody – because we have to remember the cost of living affects everybody, but particularly our most marginalised. So that’s why it’s been a great trip so far, back to Western Australia with Senator Michaelia Cash, and also Peter Dutton.
Thank you very much.
Jacinta, thank you, and thank you very much to Michaelia, as well.
Firstly, I just want to say thank you very much to our hosts here this morning – Albert and his mum and dad. It’s an incredible story and it’s a story of millions of Australians. They came from Vietnam in 1979 to our country. They’ve worked hard every day since then. They’ve worked hard to provide for the next generation. They’ve given back to our country. They’re loyal Australians. They’re wonderful Australians. And we are the most incredible country because of our Indigenous heritage, because of our modern story, and because of migration. It’s something we should celebrate.
At the moment, the Prime Minister’s made a decision to try and separate Australians depending on when they came here or their heritage and their ancestry, and that’s just not something that the Australian public is going to accept. As Jacinta rightly points out, this family is no different to hers, no different to mine, or any other Australian family. We’re all equal – and that is a very important element of the success story that is modern Australia. So, I want to say to all of those migrants who have come to our country recently or many generations ago: that this is an opportunity in this campaign to express your view, like millions of other Australians, that we are all equal.
I have a great deal of respect for our Indigenous heritage. We celebrate it regularly, as we should. We also celebrate the great migrant story of this country and the Prime Minister just saying that this is a simple proposition – it’s a nonsense – and I think most Australians are seeing through that.
I note the Prime Minister this morning is getting angry with journalists, angry with Noel Pearson, angry with Jacinta, myself, and others – the fact is that he’s the one that has responsibility for taking this decision. He can’t be out there saying, ‘well, you know, it doesn’t matter now, or it could be a ‘yes’ or it could be a ‘no”. There’s $400 million worth of taxpayers’ money that could have been spent on literally hundreds of houses in Alice Springs or in Leonora or Laverton. As we’ve said before, it’s dividing the country in a way that no Prime Minister should. I think that’s why a lot of Australians are getting frustrated at this Prime Minister because he’s become so obsessed with the Voice over the course of his term as Prime Minister, he’s forgotten about people in the suburbs, people in regional towns and cities, and families, like this, who operate small businesses across the country who are doing it tough.
Families are really struggling under Labor. It’s always harder under Labor because they can’t manage the economy and if you pay more for your mortgage, you pay more for your power prices, you pay more for petrol at the bowser, you’re getting less when you turn up to the supermarket for every dollar that you’re paying over the counter at the checkout and this is as a direct result of decisions that the Government’s now made in two budgets and I think very few Australians can say today they’re better off than they were when Mr Albanese was first elected.
So, it’s important for us to be here in Western Australia – it’s great to be back. The reception at pre-poll this morning was good, and I think a lot of Australians are keen to get out there and vote, and to vote ‘no’ because they don’t want our country divided.
I’m very happy to take any questions.
Just on the Voice, the Yes campaign apparently has been sprung using a signage that reflects the same colours as the Australian Electoral Commission. Is this straight out of the book of dirty tricks?
Well, I just think the advice of the Australian Electoral Commission this morning is important – that it’s inappropriate. They’ve advised against it, and I hope that the Yes campaign takes note of that. But look, everybody involved in this campaign, as I’ve said all along, should be conducting themselves in a respectful way. The shouting and the hard-hearted comments from the Prime Minister targeting millions of Australians, telling them they should be voting ‘yes’ when they don’t have the details, and the disrespect that’s been shown to Australians – that has no place in our country. I respect the fact that people will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
We need to have fair and proper processes and whatever side people are on, they should conduct themselves during the course of this campaign in accordance with that spirit. So, I hope the Yes campaign heeds the advice of the Australian Electoral Commission, because what they’ve done is clearly against the advice of the AEC and I hope that they can respond – and I hope that they’ve already responded by now.
You said that you would support Senator Price’s calls for an audit or a review be of Indigenous spending. Do you think that Indigenous affairs misdirected funds under the Coalition?
I’ll make two points. One is that both sides of Parliament, both sides of politics have over many years, over many decades, done all we can to try and improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. To be fair, there are a number of indicators where things have improved, but there’s a long way to go – and other areas where things have gone backwards, despite the fact that record amounts of money have been budgeted for.
So, the second point is, I absolutely strongly support Jacinta’s call to make sure that money that’s being paid in their taxes, like families here, is being spent appropriately. The huge amount of money that goes into the funnel out of Canberra becomes a trickle when it gets to many of the regional and remote areas, and that’s why we don’t see the housing, we don’t see the jobs, we don’t see the educational outcomes, we don’t see life expectancy like we would expect to see in capital cities. So, of course, I mean, it would be a travesty to see money taken away from those who are most deserving of it and for it to be diverted into the hands of those who are misappropriating that money. That’s a no-brainer. When you’re dealing with taxpayers’ money, the money needs to be spent wisely because Australians have worked hard and paid their taxes, expecting that the taxes to be spent in accordance with the law and to the benefit of the people it’s supposed to help.
Would you tell us what that looks like, Mr Dutton, and how that might be different to the audits that were done when you were in government?
Well, we can have a lot more to say in relation to these matters in the run up to the next election.
I can tell you this: if the Coalition is successful at the next election and I’m Prime Minister and Jacinta is our Minister for Indigenous Affairs or Indigenous Australians – there will be improvements made for people living in Indigenous communities like Alice Springs because Jacinta has a practical knowledge, understanding and the ability to apply that skill and knowledge to the benefit of Indigenous Australians.
She’s not interested in, you know, capital city talks and you know, academics sort of pontificating over how money can be spent – she wants to help people in Indigenous communities. The problem is that for people like Anthony Albanese and Linda Burney, they haven’t been able to deliver for Indigenous Australians and they’ve embarked our country on a path to division. You’ve got families arguing against each other. You’ve got communities arguing against each other. The Prime Minister was told on numerous occasions not to take the country down this path, but he made a deliberate decision to do so, and he should be man enough to stand up and take responsibility for the mistakes that he’s made.
Ken Wyatt held that position, why did he fail, and Senator Price will be successful?
Well, I think Ken Wyatt, another great Australian, was full of good intent and did lots of good things, to be fair, when he was Indigenous Affairs Minister, but we’ve now had the Voice which is going to divide the country and it will be a time for healing and all Indigenous Australians should hear the message from the Coalition very loudly that we want a better situation, particularly for those with disadvantage living in remote in regional areas. You could do that if the money is spent appropriately. You can’t do it if the money is diverted to other causes and away from those who are most in need.
The same principle applies in the NDIS. The Government’s presiding over a programme at the moment where literally billions of dollars are being spent and those who are profoundly disabled, most in need, some of them are getting support and others aren’t, and the system becomes unsustainable if the money is not being spent appropriately.
So, I’d say that Australians have seen through the contrast of Jacinta Price to Linda Burney: somebody who has a practical understanding of what’s going on in communities and the ways in which we can help those Indigenous communities improve situations. But we’ve got the Voice to deal with first, and we’ll have announcements to make in relation to other policies after that.
I think you’re still a proponent of the local voices? Do you think grassroots, local voices, would have a good role in identifying waste, misdirected money?
Well, I’ve always believed, whether it’s Indigenous or non-Indigenous Australians, you’ve got to roll your sleeves up, get out from, you know, the inner city elites and the red carpet events with Alan Joyce – you’ve got to move out and talk to people in the suburbs.
The modern Liberal Party, the modern Coalition, is the Party of the worker and the Party of small business and of families. The modern Labor Party is the Party of the union bosses delivering on every wish-list item that the union bosses have, but that doesn’t help the workers and it doesn’t help families. The decisions the Government’s made over the course of the last two budgets – it’s making it harder for families. There are cafes like this closing down across the country at the moment and other businesses that are doing it tough.
So, I think there’s a lot for the Prime Minister to reflect on because the decisions he’s made and his obsession with the Voice over the last 18 months has meant that most Australians are worse off today than they were when he was first elected.
Senator Price has framed this Referendum as a battle between the elites and middle Australia. It seems like you agree with that stance?
Well, I mean, back to Paige’s point before, the Calma-Langton Report recommended a local and regional body before you go to a national body. Now, that advice was rejected by the Prime Minister. Remember early on the Prime Minister was waving around the Calma-Langton Report saying, ‘if you want the detail, here it is’. He never mentioned it again. He doesn’t mention the Calma-Langton report, because that’s not what he’s done.
The wording is so broad, it will give rise to broad interpretation, liberal interpretation, by the High Court. Unintended consequences flow from that, and the permanent nature of changing our Constitution can’t be undone by any law. It doesn’t matter whether the Liberal Party and the Labor Party and the Greens come together in the Federal Parliament, there’s no law that can outdo the provisions in the Constitution – and Australians aren’t stupid, they instinctively want to help Indigenous Australians, but they know the detail is not there for this great big new bureaucracy that’s not going to deliver the outcomes for Indigenous Australians on the ground.
When it comes to the audit of spending in Indigenous affairs, will you be committing to a Royal Commission? And if not, how will you guarantee that this audit will differ from what’s gone before?
Well, again, we’ll make announcements in relation to our policy at the appropriate time. The effort now is to concentrate on the vote, which is only a couple of weeks away. I’d just say to all Australians: yes, in your heart you want to help Indigenous Australians – we all do – and that’s why the voting numbers were up to start with. But as the Prime Minister’s refused to provide the detail, the design of the Voice doesn’t start until the Monday after the Voice vote takes place.
Don’t vote for something that is uncertain, that’s divisive, that’s permanent. We have a much more practical approach, and Jacinta Price is somebody who has a great deal of respect on the ground in Indigenous communities, lives in Alice Springs, understands the concerns of many of the communities, is willing to cut through all of the B.S. so that she can try and provide support to those people who are most in need. She’s not afraid of anyone, and I think that’s a really important point, there’s no vested interest that owns Jacinta Price. Jacinta wants to help people on the ground, in the town camps, in communities remote and regional, across the country, and you want somebody who is as brave as Jacinta to stand up, to get the best outcome for Indigenous Australians, and that’s what you’ll get if you vote for the Liberal-National Coalition at the next election.
[inaudible] bushfires burning in several states across the country. The Prime Minister and Emergency Services Minister insist it’s fine. How do you feel about the spring-summer ahead?
Well, I was speaking with Darren Chester this morning. Obviously, as many of the areas currently affected are in his electorate, but obviously there’s a much broader problem in areas where hazard reduction hasn’t taken place. I’m particularly concerned about those areas because you end up getting these very significant fires.
If you look at a great part of the Indigenous culture – and I think this is reported on in The Australian only in the last month or so – over the course of winter, and when you can do controlled burns, they’ve reduced the threat to wildlife and to infrastructure as well by conducting those burn-offs before you get to the heat, and as we know, the intensity of those fires, if you don’t have hazard reduction, can be much greater than in a normal season.
There’s a rain front coming through in parts of Victoria at the moment, which is reassuring, and perhaps that’s going to deal with some of the greatest threat, but this will continue to be – over a dry summer – a real issue for us, and every Australian should thank our volunteer fire men and women, the work that they do, not just the frontline officers but the coordinators, those people that are dispatching the units to go and respond to a fire, particularly in regional areas where it’s hard to get the numbers volunteering that they need to keep the community safe.
So, I just want to thank all of those volunteers for the work that they’re doing, because many people would lose property and life without their sacrifice.
On cost of living: is it appropriate, do you think, for motorists to cop a break on fuel prices? Perhaps the lowering of the fuel excise, again?
Well, Geof again, I mean, there are many ways in which you can help families and many ways in which you can hurt them. Unfortunately, the Government’s made a number of decisions which have hurt families.
If you’re paying petrol at $2.20 or $2.30 a litre for diesel, you’re filling up your HiLux or your Ranger, that hurts, but it hurts more when you paying an extra $1,500 dollars a month in your mortgage repayment under Anthony Albanese, and the decisions that they’ve made have increased inflation. Inflation will remain higher for longer, which means you’re paying higher costs at the supermarket, at the bowser, when you get your insurance bill, when you get your electricity bill, and it all adds up. It’s a tough picture for a lot of Australians at the moment.
So, the Government can look at excise, they’ve increased taxes, as you know, by 15 per cent under this Government. People know that they’re paying more in taxes and that the money is not being spent wisely. At the same time, you’ve got a Government, Mr Chalmers and Mr Albanese who in two budgets have made decisions which haven’t help families, they’ve hurt families. I think that’s why a lot of people realise that Labor are just very poor economic managers and they’ve forgotten about workers and they’re only worried about union bosses.
Would you support a cut to the fuel excise?
Well, again, in relation to our policies we’ll make them well-known before the next election, but when we were in government, we didn’t have interest rates where they are today, we didn’t have the cost of energy where it is today, and if you think your electricity bill is high already, or if you think you’re paying a lot for gas now, wait for another 12 months or two years, five years under this Government, because not only does the energy regulator say the prices will go up, but also that particularly in a state like Victoria, you might see a disruption to the power supply over the course of this summer.
Just a quick one on the Voice again, so how much political damage will a referendum loss inflict on Prime Minister? Do you sort of see it as a vote on his leadership?
I just think the Prime Minister needs to stop blaming everybody else for the decisions he’s taken.
Australians respect their Prime Minister when the Prime Minister stands up and takes responsibility, and this Prime Minister is abrogating his responsibility. He’s been warned for months and months and months not to go down this path. We offered bipartisan support in relation to recognition, but has he taken that offer? No. He’s got our country on the path to division, and at a cost of $400 million, he says that that’s acceptable. He could have built hundreds of hundreds of houses in Indigenous communities with that $400 million.
So, I believe very strongly that the Prime Minister should be man enough to take responsibility for the decisions that he’s taken, and Australians at the moment will be shaking their head – not just at the fact that he’s taken a decision which is dividing the country, but that he won’t stand up and take responsibility for his own actions.
[inaudible] Indigenous communities as part of this trip? And if so, what are you hearing from those communities in WA?
Well, look, I had the great honour, to be honest, of going out of Laverton, to Leonora. I’ve been up to East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory a couple of times in the last 12 months, we’ve been to Alice Springs, to Darwin and spoken to a lot of Indigenous people. I’ve been to Palm Island off Townsville, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of division within Indigenous communities about whether they’re supporting the Voice or not.
Now, as I said before, I respect Australians for the decision that they will make. They’ll be satisfied that there’s a case to vote ‘yes’ or they’re dissatisfied with the proposition of the Prime Minister’s Voice proposal and they’re voting ‘no’. It’s true across Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, but it is frustrating when you know that there’s money being provided by taxpayers who work hard for that money, to help Indigenous communities, and the money’s not getting there. This is the very significant point that Jacinta’s made over a long period of time, and many others, and that’s why it needs to be properly looked at.
Just to clarify on that point, will the Coalition take any responsibility for that waste of money in Indigenous Affairs given the nine years…
As I said before, mate, over decades, Governments of both persuasions have approached this with goodwill, but the current system is not working and the Voice will make it worse.
The Prime Minister’s proposal for the Voice: the words too broad, it’s dividing our country, it’s permanent by being in the Constitution, it’s against the advice of Calma-Langton. I note that Noel Pearson was out the other day advocating the concept of a local and regional bodies as proposed by Calma-Langton, but that’s not what’s on the table here. They’re bypassing that and they’re going to a national Voice against the advice of Calma-Langton, so the Yes case jumps around every day, and that uncertainty, that ambiguity, is creating a lot of doubt in people’s minds, and rightly so.
So, every Government has responsibility, and I believe that every Government, Liberal and Labor, and certainly I’ve been on the frontbench since 2004, every conversation I’ve been involved in as a Minister in Government and in the Shadow Ministry, has been about how we can help Indigenous Australians improve life expectancy, reduce infant mortality rates, make sure that we increase the funding going into education, into schools, etc., etc..
What we’ve got at the moment is not working. We want a better situation for Indigenous Australians and I believe very strongly if Jacinta Price is the Minister for Indigenous Australians, we will get those better outcomes for Indigenous Australians and that will be a great day for our country.
Thank you very much.